Tech whiz kids in the making?

Tech whiz kids in the making?
Benedict Lai (left) and his sister Seraphine (right).

I would rather he learn to be a creator instead of just a consumer of technology. - Mrs Lai, on why she sent her son Benedict to the Game Programming Bootcamp course

He is seven years old and he has already created his own computer games.

Benedict Lai, a Primary 1 pupil at St Joseph's Institution Junior, spent 10 hours over four days of his year-end break delving into the complexities of computer programming language.

What Benedict can create on a computer screen with a few mouse clicks and strokes on the keyboard is more than what many people much older than him can achieve.

With his coding skills, he is able to create a basic video game, a 35sec animation, or multiple choice computer quizzes.

He learnt how to do this at the Game Programming Bootcamp course run by The Kid Coders, an initiative that offers coding classes to children aged between six and 16.

"Miss Juliana (the programming teacher) taught me how to create a car game when I was in her class," Benedict says shyly.

With a sheepish giggle, he adds: "I also created a cat cartoon. It's called The Crazy Cat because it shrinks until it disappears before it appears again."

His sister, Seraphine, nine, also attended the course.

CHALLENGING

The confident girl who speaks well says: "The programming class was fun. It was really interesting and challenging at the same time."

Seraphine, who was recently accepted into the Gifted Education Programme, adds: "I also created a car game that involves collecting points as the vehicle moves along."

Benedict and her sister are just two of millions of youngsters aged between eight and 16 worldwide who are learning to programme interactive stories, games and animations using the free programming language Scratch.

Launched in 2006 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, Scratch has become the standard tool for teaching coding in more than 150 countries.

It has also been translated into over 40 languages. The Scratch website has more than 7.2 million projects shared on it.

Benedict and Seraphine's mother, Mrs Lai, a tech marketer in her 40s, says she sent her children to the class because she did not want them to "waste time at home."

She says: "If I left Benedict on his own, he probably would spend hours on his favourite game, Minecraft. He has an obsession with it, so I sent him for classes. I would rather he learn to be a creator instead of just a consumer of technology."

Mrs Lai's decision has come at the perfect time.

NEW INITIATIVE

As part of the Smart Nation vision for Singapore, the Ministry of Education is encouraging schools to join the Code for Fun enrichment scheme next year. It, too, will be using Scratch.

The Lai children's programming teacher, Miss Juliana Ung, 29, the sole proprietor of The Kid Coders, says of her students: "In boot camp class, they dive into learning to create a game from the get-go. That includes creating their hero, making it pick up fruit and allowing the player to accumulate points."

Miss Ung adds that her course teaches students to think like creators.

The Kid Coders also offers a course teaching teens the ropes of the more widely used IT languages such as HTML or Hypertext Markup Language.

Benedict and Seraphine hope to attend more courses for the rest of their year-end holidays.

Seraphine says she knows that having programming knowledge will help her when she enters the working world, "especially when putting together presentations".

Benedict has other plans. With surprising conviction in his voice, he says: "When I grow up, I'm going to be a Minecraft programmer."

Tech gurus on coding

Everybody should learn how to programme a computer... it teaches you how to think. - Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Inc

In fifteen years we'll be teaching programming just like reading and writing... and wondering why we didn't do it sooner. - Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook

Whether you are trying to make a lot of money or just want to change the world, computer programming is an incredibly empowering skill to learn. - Hadi Partovi, creator of code.org, a non-profit organisation that promotes computer science to US students

The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You're going to look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else. - Gabe Newell, co-founder and managing director of Valve Corporation, a video game development and online distribution company

crobert@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 07, 2014.
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